This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Tuesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“Obviously right now we’re not where we want to be as a defense. But, on a positive note, I do see growth. I do see some young guys getting a lot better. I saw some young guys step up and make some plays in some critical situations this past game, which was good to see. Guys like [DL] Arik Armstead, [DL DeForest] Buckner, [CB] Keith Reaser had a big third down stop for us. So, we have some young guys that are really starting to trust the technique and really go and that’s only going to help us as we get going this season. I do see this thing turning and the reason I can say that is we’ve got a group of men, coaches and players included, who are thumb pointers. They’re not finger pointers. And anytime you have that in a locker room, anytime you have that with your staff, it gives you a chance to grow and to get better every day you come to work. So, with that, go ahead.”
You mentioned Armstead. His snap counts have been up the last two games. Does that mean that his shoulder is feeling better, that he’s able to play with it?
“I think it’s a combination of two things. I think he is feeling better and we know as a defense we need him to be that difference maker in the run and pass game for us to be a good defense. So, he’s got to be out there for us.”
He seemed to be wearing a harness. Is that–?
“He’s been wearing a harness since training camp.”
With the depth you have at defensive line and the lack of depth you have at inside linebacker, is your system flexible enough that you could convert to a 4-3 if you wanted to, if you had to? Is that something you guys have considered?
“We play 4-3 spacing every time we go into our sub-packages. It’s more 3-4 spacing in our base packages. So, if you really broke it down, we’re probably 50-50 3-4 versus 4-3 spacing.”
Would you consider that, a 4-3, on base downs?
“We do play some 4-3 on base downs based off of the formation. There were a few plays where you see [LB] Ahmad [Brooks] as a stack backer. So, that is some things that we do.”
Just a follow-up. The question, is it valid? Is that something that, with the talent you have at inside linebacker as opposed to defensive line, is that something that is–?
“Well, 4-3 spacing, you’re putting three inside backers on the field. So, you would actually, if you wanted to play 4-3, you would need another inside backer. You follow me? So, we’re built to be a 3-4 team. But like I said, we can get some 4-3 spacing stuff with our outside backers, but those guys are better on the line of scrimmage nose to nose on tight ends and doing why they were drafted or brought here.”
What’s kind of the attitude or the reaction, the intensity of guys in the second half of these games? What are you seeing on the sideline?
“Yeah. [Head coach] Coach [Chip Kelly] talked to the team about it this morning. As a team, we’re in it, we’re in it, we’re in it, we’re in it and something bad happens, whether it’s a turnover or the game gets a little bit away from us and I don’t know if we relax a little bit as a team, but that’s where we’ve just got to be consistent for four quarters because we’re competitive in all these games and then something happens and two or three series go by and then you look up at the scoreboard and you’re like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ So, I just think that’s where we’ve got to grow as a team. I think that some of that’s being probably young and learning how to be consistent for four quarters. We’ve got to do a good job coaching them on how to do that, but that’s probably our biggest problem right now if you ask me.”
What’s prevented LB Gerald Hodges from having a bigger role in that linebacker rotation?
“He needs to play more. He does.”
Why hasn’t he–?
“In this past game?”
Yeah, just overall.
“They were doing a lot of different type things schematically and there was, they came to the sideline, you make your corrections, you make your coaching points and then it’s so valuable to be out there and you make a mistake and then when you see it a second time, now it’s corrected and you go. So, instead of putting a guy out there to see it for the first time again, I felt comfortable rolling with [LB] Nick [Bellore] and [LB] Mike [Wilhoite]. I do recognize that those guys were probably out there too many plays and we’ve got to get more of a three or four-man rotation going. And coach talked about that the other day. So, that’s something we talked about as a defensive staff. So, I think moving forward you’ll see a lot more Gerald Hodges.”
You mentioned last week taking away some things maybe the guys were having trouble understanding, kind of simplifying things a little bit. Is that something that you have to continue to do or do you think maybe you need to mix things up this week?
“The biggest thing I said, and I don’t like the word simplify, I like the word that we’re trying to build it around what we’re learning about our guys and what they do well. You really don’t know until you get into these games because guys react different on Sunday’s. The preseason’s totally different than the regular season. OTA’s are totally different than the preseason. So, as we learn our guys, we’re just trying to take advantage of what we think that they do well and then we’re trying to put them in those situations to do those things.”
This team didn’t add an inside linebacker in the offseason at all through the draft or free agency. Were you comfortable with that? Were you pushing to add some more depth there?
“I thought that, obviously going into it with [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] and we felt really good about [LB] Ray-Ray Armstrong and Wilhoite and Gerald Hodges. Just, when you lose two guys in any position, that’s tough. But, that’s the NFL. Nobody’s going to be sending us sorry cards or get well soon. You’ve just got to go.”
You say that the biggest problem you see is not consistency and learning how to play four quarters. Is that something that a coach can really get the players to do or do you need those veteran players on the field to do that?
“I think that’s a great question. I think it comes from everybody. I think that it starts with your mentality as a player. And again, we talked about that this morning as a defense. You’ve got to be excited every time you take the field. You’ve got to almost have the mentality, ‘Hey, this is great.’ Even if the ball’s on the one-yard line, ‘Hey, more TV time for us. Another chance for me to make a play.’ It can’t be like, ‘Oh, damn we turned the ball over,’ or something like that. To me, it starts with your attitude, it starts with your mentality and we’ve just got to keep preaching that. And you’re right, the older guys, the veterans got to take control of it and get it going. It’s just got to be everybody.”
You say that you see things turning. I think a lot of people, based on what just happened Sunday when you allowed the second-most rushing yards in franchise history, 500-yards, there’s been five straight 100-yard rushers, on and on. People don’t see things turning. What would you say in the face of some pretty bad statistics?
“I don’t get too wrapped up in the statistic stuff. I understand where you’re coming from. But, like I said, we’ve got a group of guys that point the finger at themselves. They’re not looking for excuses. So, to me, when you have that in the locker room and you have that in your coaching staff, it gives you a chance to grow because it takes the ego out of it. If you have guys that are looking to blame other people, you’ve got no chance. So, that’s where it starts. I do see specific techniques improving. Like I started my press conference, I know we’re a long way from where we want to be, OK? I by no means am satisfied. Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed by what happened on this past Sunday. But, I am positive as to where this is going. I think Chip’s got a great plan. I think we have a great coaching staff. We have a lot of good, young talent. We’ve just got to continue to develop guys. We’ve got a lot of guys playing for us that don’t have a ton of NFL experience. Every time that they’re out there, they learn so much and those reps are so valuable for them. So, just as we go, it’s going to turn. I’m very positive. I told the guys, never in my life have I flinched and never in my life will I flinch and I expect the same from them. Just keep going, keep grinding, keep putting the work in and we’re going to be fine.”
ME: Why has Bellore in particular been starting over Hodges? What went into that decision?
“Hodges has never been trained as a MIKE linebacker. So, Hodges was trained as a WILL-DIME linebacker. The only inside backer that we’ve trained at both has been Mike Wilhoite. So, he’s a guy that could swing for us.”
Would you consider playing S Eric Reid at linebacker given just the–?
“Eric does play some linebacker for us.”
But even more? I know he played some corner last game.
“Like I told you guys and you guys laughed at me when I told you he’d play some defensive end. Eric Reid’s played linebacker, nickel, corner. Eric Reid’s kind of our Swiss army knife. He’s a great player for us. He’s a very smart football player. He’s a guy, again, like I talk about building it around guys, he’s a guy that no matter what we give him, he’s going to find a way to learn it and be good at it. So, he is a guy that we probably need to put more on.”
Do you think some of your better players are pressing right now to try and make too many plays?
“That’d be a good question for them. I think that they’re all pressing because I think that there’s a very high standard in that room and we as a coaching staff have set it. Some of the guys that have been here for a while know what that standard is and we’re not playing up to it right now. We’ve got to get everybody playing up to that standard that we know we can play at.”
You talk about having a Swiss army knife. DL Ronald Blair is a player who, as a front seven player, is probably the most versatile player you have on the roster. Would you agree with that and if so, why aren’t you trying to incorporate him more into the defensive game plan even though–?
“He is a part of our game plan. The way that game went, we ended up in a lot more base than we did in some of our sub-packages. He’s a guy that we might have to start getting involved some at outside backer. So, you’re right on with that. He’s a guy that has shown a lot of versatility, has some playmaking ability who can help us and we’ve got to use him that way.”
How do you get better at stopping the run when you’re in nickel and dime situations?
Let’s say, I think Sunday, the Bills averaged almost 10 yards a carry when you guys were in sub?
“Yeah, I’ll take your word for it. But, I would say that some of those yards obviously they did a good job, we didn’t. Some of those situations could be second-and-extra-long or third-and-extra-long where we’re willing to concede some rushing yards. Obviously, we don’t want to give up first downs in that situation. But, it just goes back to everything. Overall, we’ve just got to be better. We’ve got to do a better job executing. We’ve got to do a better job tackling. We’ve got to do a better job with our mentality against the run, the 11 guys that are out there.”
What happened on that third-and-20 run?
“We did a bad job pursing the football.”